Australian Army soldiers of the 8th/9th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, board a CH-47 Chinook during a non-combatant evacuation operation at Shoalwater Bay Training Area as part of Exercise Hamel 2018.
Australian Army soldiers of the 8th/9th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, board a CH-47 Chinook during a non-combatant evacuation operation at Shoalwater Bay Training Area as part of Exercise Hamel 2018.

COVID-19 cancels major army exercise

The army's largest annual exercise which was planned to go ahead in Townsville this year has been cancelled as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The Townsville Bulletin can reveal Exercise Hamel, which was going to take place at the Townsville Field Training Area in August over four to six weeks, will not happen as the 3rd Brigade remains on standby to support the Australian Defence Force's battle against COVID-19.

"We have delayed all non-essential exercises and training in order to ensure our soldiers are best placed to look after themselves, their families, and be ready to respond in support of governments' efforts to defeat COVID-19," 3rd Brigade Commander Brigadier Kahlil Fegan said.

"This means we will, as an army, review our planned training objectives for the year - but right now our focus is on supporting the Government as and when we are needed."

The 3rd Brigade was to be the "friendly force" in the exercise against an "enemy", which in previous years has seen up to 6000 defence force personnel participate.

Exercise Hamel is designed to test the skills of the brigade as it comes into the "ready" phase before its troops will deploy on overseas operations.

It is unclear whether deployments later this year will be affected by COVID-19.

 

 

An Australian Army MRH-90 takes off from Shoalwater Bay Training Area during Exercise Hamel 2018.
An Australian Army MRH-90 takes off from Shoalwater Bay Training Area during Exercise Hamel 2018.

A Defence Department spokeswoman said all other planned exercises in the Townsville region, including at Lavarack Barracks, will also be postponed.

"These exercises will be rescheduled and conducted once it is safe to do so," she said.

"Until that time, support to Operation COVID-19 Assist is the highest priority for soldiers in the Townsville area.

"Defence is adjusting a range of plans and commitments as it works to contribute to the whole-of-government response to COVID-19."

A number of Townsville troops have been working from home to keep themselves, their families and the broader community healthy.

"Defence is currently reconsidering the status of its upcoming events to ensure the safety of personnel involved," the spokeswoman said.

"The Australian Army will continue to plan certification and readiness requirements to ensure we are able to meet the needs of Australia in the medium and long-term."


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